Bush Lifts Sanctions, Terror Label From North Korea
President Bush is lifting sanctions on North Korea, even though he remains "deeply concerned" about the rogue nation as a bad actor.
But some observers asked why a treacherous nation should be rewarded, and why the United States would trust the leaders in Pyongyang.
North Korea fired a missile in an arc over Japan, repeatedly broke nonproliferation agreements by developing nuclear weapons and detonating one in a test, and is developing a Taepo Dong-2 missile that could strike the United States.
Critics see the lifting of sanctions as rewarding a recalcitrant nation due no reward.
But Bush said he was responding to a North Korean move to hand over documents describing its nuclear program.
While the North Korean regime has admitted to using plutonium in its nuclear weapons program, it hasn’t admitted to processing enriched uranium. However, traces of that material were found on pages of documents that Pyongyang supplied to the West.
Bush admitted that the North Koreans have a track record that doesn’t inspire trust.
"The United States has no illusions about the regime in Pyongyang," he said. "We remain deeply concerned about North Korea’s human rights abuses, uranium enrichment activities, nuclear testing and proliferation, ballistic missile programs, and the threat it continues to pose to South Korea and its neighbors."
Still, Bush’s stance is that he’ll take what seems to be progress with the isolated nation, wherever he can find it.
"We welcome today’s development as one step in the multi-step process laid out by the six-party talks [among] North Korea, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States," he said.
"Last year, North Korea pledged to disable its nuclear facilities," he recalled. And now. "North Korea has begun disabling its Yongbyon nuclear facility — which was being used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. This work is being overseen by officials from the United States and the IAEA. And to demonstrate its commitment, North Korea has said it will destroy the cooling tower of the Yongbyon reactor in front of international television cameras tomorrow," which did happen, in an explosion and a cloud of dust.
So Bush responded by issuing a proclamation that lifts the provisions of the Trading with the Enemy Act with respect to North Korea. And he said he is notifying Congress that he intends to "rescind North Korea’s designation as a state sponsor of terror in 45 days. The next 45 days will be an important period for North Korea to show its seriousness of its cooperation. We will work through the six-party talks to develop a comprehensive and rigorous verification protocol. And during this period, the United States will carefully observe North Korea’s actions — and act accordingly."
Bush noted that North Korea, even after his actions, remains isolated financially and diplomatically.
But there is some progress here, he said. "Today is a positive day; it’s a positive step forward," Bush said. "There’s more work to be done, and we’ve got the process in place to get it done in a verifiable way."
Critics, including some on the political right, asked why the United States is doing so much for North Korea.
For example, the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank, castigated Bush for his moves.
Danielle Pletka, an AEI scholar, commented that "so eager are [administration officials] to ink a deal, they are not only willing to jettison meaningful requirements, but have stooped to making arguments on behalf of the North Korean dictatorship to the U.S. Congress and the American public."
This is dangerous, given the nuclear adventures of North Korea, she argued. Such capitulation threatens the international nonproliferation regime.
Another AEI expert, John R. Bolton, noted the role North Korea has played in proliferating dangerous weapons technology to other states, such as missile capabilities.
Bolton noted North Korean intransigence, especially in its ties to Syria and Iran.
"North Korean nuclear proliferation is quite likely more than a series of one-time transactions that create problems elsewhere in the world," he said. "It may very well be integral to its own nuclear weapons program."